Copyright and Pagans

There’s recently been another round of discussion about copyright and Pagan uses, so this is a good time for me to rummage in my files and do the post on Pagans and copyright I’ve been meaning to do for a while. The following is based on the notes I used for a handout at a panel discussion at Paganicon in 2012, but I’ve expanded the explanations.

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

  • Copyright law is very complicated. (Even for people who specialise in it.) There are a lot of exceptions, and a bunch of things you’d think were common sense, but are more complicated than that.
  • Fair use or educational use is even more complicated. (There’s a section below on it.)
  • In many cases, a court is the only thing that can determine whether a particular use is legal if it doesn’t involve the copyright holder giving permission.
  • Getting permission is always a great choice. Many people give permission in advance via a Creative Commons license or something similar.

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The purpose of events (a discourse on Pagan Pride)

I’ve seen two fascinating conversations pop up in the last day: one about SF conventions and one about the Pagan community, both talking, in at least general terms, about ‘who are we doing this for, and what are we doing with it’? Which brought up all the thoughts, so hi, you all get a post about it.

The Pagan community side started with a friend linking to a post of Star Foster’s about Pagan Pride and the subsequent conversation (locked Facebook post, so I can’t share) was interesting, but also got me thinking. Which got me writing.

I was on the Twin Cities Pagan Pride board from sometime in late 2005 (so starting with the 2006 event), during which I’ve been co-programming chair, programming chair, and then hotel and operations chair once we started Paganicon in 2011. (I am no longer on the board, because moving to Maine in the summer of 2011 made it a little tricky to attend board meetings in Minnesota, but I continue to do hotel foo for Paganicon, and I presented two workshops at this year’s Southern Maine Pagan Pride.

And I found it fascinating reading Star’s post, because there’s some interesting assumptions there. And a bit of history I realise people might not be aware of.

A pause for context:

Back when I was Programming Chair of Twin Cities Pagan Pride, I made a really deliberate attempt to reach outside the Wiccan-based community. Every year, I’d sit down and produce a list of every Pagan or polytheistic group I could find in the Twin Cities region and in greater Minnesota. I’d search through Witchvox, but I’d also rummage through Minnesota email lists, through listings of events or mentions at stores, do web searches for the likely terms, and so on.

(And I’m a librarian by profession, so I do know how to do a thorough web search that goes beyond basic Google.)

I’d send off nice little notes to anyone who did not explicitly ask not to be contacted (Witchvox has an option for “Please don’t contact me about random events in the community” and of course I respected that.)

My notes said, basically “We’re doing Pagan Pride again this year, here’s the dates and location.” and for any group that wasn’t one that we saw all the time (who are awesome for doing that), I’d say something like “We’d really like to include a greater and more diverse representation at our event. If you’re not interested or available, I’d love to know about other groups or people you know about who might be interested.” and then usually a brief thing about “here’s the places I’m already looking for that.” (because asking other people to do your homework for you is rude.)

Most of the time, those emails went into the ether, and I got very little response back. Maybe they went to defunct groups. Maybe they went to spam folders. Maybe people meant to respond, and Life happened. I don’t know. But I do know I tried.

Thing is – it didn’t get us much response. And I don’t know what to do about that. You can’t make people show up and do things for you. (You can’t even make them show up). All we could do is be honest and sincere about what we wanted to do, and that we would like to include more varieties of practice and experience for people to learn about.

I also made sure that our programming items included things that could apply to a wide range of paths, and I mentioned those in our “We’d love programming about X” emails. (Things like how divination applies to your path, or what fiction you read that inspires you to think about something in your religious or magical practice differently, or how fiber crafts work for you.)

Where’d I learn to do this? The Pagan online space I’ve spent the most time – the Cauldron – has a long history of a diverse range of Pagan, polytheistic, and magical paths (Wicca and Wiccan-based practice has been in the minority there among the active posters pretty much my entire 12 years hanging out there.) So I did have a good sense of topics that might have general interest, and how to write them to avoid Wiccan-centric assumptions.

What did I find out?

First, that for a number of years (again, between about 2006 and 2010), we had a really clear alternation between more Wicca-heavy Pagan Pride lineups and more other-kinds-of-Paganism ones. This wasn’t intentional in the least: it happened four years running in which my basic outreach process was more or less exactly the same. It all came down to “we have the spare energy this year but didn’t last year” or internal cycles of groups, or sometimes things like “We have people who would like the chance to lead a public ritual” one year, and the next year, some of those people weren’t free.

We also had the issue that the Minnesota Renaissance Festival dates are a complicating factor in scheduling Twin Cities Pagan Pride: we had more diverse representation in the years before the RenFest dates entirely encompass the Pagan Pride window. There isn’t a lot Pagan Pride can do about that – going later in October even if we got an exemption for the date hits the Mankato Women’s Spirituality festival, and Earth Conclave, as well as people’s prep for Samhain. And when the people who *are* backbones of the event, year after year, have Samhain plans, this is something you do need to keep in mind. It’s a big part of why we shifted most of the programming to the spring Paganicon.

Are there things we might have done that would have been even more outreach? Sure. (There always are more things.) But those are also things that would take a substantially larger investment of time and energy because the next real step would be very personal outreach (by going to open events in those other paths and communities) But that assumes there are communities open to that kind of respectful visit (many aren’t, and for good reason) and that there are people with the spare time and energy to go.

(I had the energy to do Twin Cities Pagan Pride as a board member. But at various points when I was on the board, I was working full time, and also putting in 10-20 hours a week in teaching and leadership of the group that trained me, and finishing graduate school. Or at the tail end of that time, dealing with a major job hunt and a major health crash that has taken years to begin to recover from. People have varied and complicated lives, is what I’m saying here, and the rest of our Board also had varied and complicated lives.)

What does this actually mean?

Good question. I argue that the thing you should do with Pagan events is figure out why you’re going. I’m actually with Star that public Pagan rituals don’t usually do much for me (I do not need a big transformative experience every time – big transformative experiences are exhausting, thanks, even if they’re good for me. But if I’m going to do ‘friendly social connection’, doing it with random strangers isn’t really my thing either.)

So why do I go? I go because I believe it’s good for the larger Pagan communities to talk in useful ways. To compare notes on what’s working and what isn’t, and what’s new in town. I go because I like doing workshops as a way to both meet interesting people and share useful stuff. But I go with moderate expectations. I expect to see some people I like, maybe meet a few people I might like, and so on. I don’t expect it to be a Major Point In My Life.

And yet – part of why I’ve invested hours and hours in making them happen is because for some people, it is a major turning point in their life. I’ve had people tell me they were so glad to find people like them, and seen the glow in their eyes of connecting with other Pagans, or someone who could help with a specific path or kind of practice. This August, I was teaching a workshop on research at the Southern Maine PPD and was able to point someone at a path that totally isn’t mine, but I knew some useful resources and contacts. I live for that kind of thing. (Librarian. Connecting people with information that matters to them is pretty much my life mission. Also a religious devotion.)

The other thing I really like about Pagan Prides is that they’re low commitment as long as getting there is not a huge issue. (Free event, supported by donations.) It’s entirely possible to go for an hour or two, see the things you really want to, and go away. You don’t have to block off all weekend, you don’t have to buy a membership or a ticket. If you decide there’s not that much of interest, you can go away quickly, if you find some awesome conversations, you can stick around.

But I don’t expect it to be my whole community. I don’t expect it to be life-changing. I don’t expect it to be the Best Thing I Do All Year. Those are unreasonable expectations to put on a very broad, very general event that is focused on public education and increased awareness. If I get personal awesome stuff out of it, great.

But I go – and I support such events – because I want there to continue to be places curious people can check Paganism (and related paths) out, and learn more. (Which works better when there are experienced people from a wide variety of paths willing to talk to new people.) Where people who are curious can learn more about local resources (whether that’s groups or vendors or entertainment). And because if we want a more diverse and more vibrant and more varied group of Pagan communities in the future, we need to keep propping the door open, not just keep talking to the people we already know.

But if that’s not your thing – that’s okay. There’s other ways to catch up with friends, and other times to do stuff with Pagans. As much as I value Pagan Pride events (and other public and newbie-friendly events), I don’t think a given event is the right choice for every person or for a given person every year.  I’m certainly not offended by other people deciding to do something else with that day.

I do hope, though, we can talk about events fairly (judge them for what they are and are trying to be, not for failing to meet our personal desires for our dream event). I also hope that we can, individually and together, remember that events have histories but also – we hope – futures. Events will change and develop over time (so what we did 5 years ago might be different now) and that what we want out of an event as an individual might be different than it was 5 years ago. Or last year.

Ten years perspective

About ten years (and two weeks) ago, I went to the first Seeker class with the group I would later join. It met in the back room of a coffee shop that isn’t there anymore, and several of the teachers left the group a few months later for various reasons.

It was not my first introduction to Paganism, or Wiccan-based practice, or magic. After all, I’d been reading fantasy books with characters who were Pagan for quite a while. I’d had some powerful experiences in college that lead me to explore some basic magical concepts like centering and grounding.

And I’d always believed that the Gods were many and varied, notes and strands of melody singing out in the cosmos in infinite combination, as only someone who was raised on daily stories of Greek mythology can.

I’d also taken my time.

I’d been an active Catholic throughout high school and college (after becoming Catholic when my parents returned to Catholicism when I was 13). There was a lot I’d loved about my college Catholic community, in particular, but I also had frustrations. (The role of women in the church. A desire to create ritual, not just facilitate it. A growing certainty that my GLBT and polyamorous friends were not doing something wrong or sinful, but something that was often complicated, given society’s biases, but something that could be and often was joyous, loving, and wonderful.) There are still things I think many Catholics get right, and do wonderful things with – but it’s a place I visit, and chat with, not a place I could live.

I was approaching 25, engaged, working at my second job after college, going to grad school part time. I’d moved halfway across the country the year before, and I’d taken the time to figure out what I wanted out of my religious life.

After a lot of reflection, I knew I was a happier person when structured complex ritual was a part of my life (at least sometimes). I wanted a path that included music in some way. That worked with the polytheistic view of my world. Something that had a cohesive way to explain some of the magical and energetic experiences I’d had. And something that could help me … be better. Do better. Learn more.

I looked at other religions, too. But I kept circling back to some strand of Paganism.

And so, I found myself in the same place as hundreds, thousands of people before me. I’d read some books. I’d browsed Witchvox. I’d wandered and lurked through alt.religion.wicca and alt.religion.wicca.moderated on Usenet, and various mailing lists. I’d gone to a few public rituals in the community, and gotten a better sense of what I really wanted. I’d sent out some emails (embarassing ones, in hindsight, but hey.)

Three separate people ended up pointing me at a particular group, also on my short list from that Witchvox research. And so I said “Eh. Let’s try them first.” And then had to wait until they offered introductory classes at a time that fit with my grad school schedule.

And so, that May, I found myself in that room, with a dozen other people, and four or five people from the group, depending on the week. Over the five classes in the series, the number of students got smaller. (That’s pretty common in things of this kind.) I heard a lot of things I already knew. (Book knowledge has never been the problem for me.) But I was listening, more, to “Is this a place I could see myself? Are they doing things that will stretch me in the right ways?”

I thought they were. And now, ten years later, I’m even more sure of that.

(I should note here: I don’t think my path is everyone’s path. In fact, I think it’s the right fit for very few people. I’m a lot more interested in helping people figure out what their thing is, the thing that makes their spirit sing and dance and delight the way mine has.)

Those ten years have brought amazing changes to me. I got married – and divorced. I dedicated with the group in September, initiated in early 2003, and went on to gather in my second and third degrees. I hived off to form a new group – ok, that one is still in process, because the rest of my life needs to settle. But I look forward to that.

And in between, my life’s shifted and changed. I’ve gained a relationship with two deities very near and dear my heart, in ways that I would never give up, even though I still have a hard time talking about it. And a number of other deity relationships that, while less immensely personal, I treasure and delight in.

I’ve had ritual experiences that fundamentally changed how I viewed the world, in the best possible ways, that gave me more understanding of myself, of what I could offer, of what I could become given a nudge into the void in the right direction.

I’ve had the privilege of being part of other people’s spiritual learning. I taught Seeker classes myself for the better part of four years, was the primary teacher for Dedicant classes for a year, wrote a number of rituals, and have had endless conversations online (as well as writing a lot of supplementary and discursive commentary.) Some of which people say is very useful.

And I’ve been part of other people’s initiations, an experience I always treasure and am humbled by. I’ve also seen other friends move away from Paganism, into paths that call their hearts, and considered it a part of my job as their friend to help them think about that in all the ways that lead to a clear decision, not the one I might prefer.

And somewhere in there, I’ve learned to actually have visuals in my meditations, and explain how I sense and experience energy to people who don’t hear it. I’ve figured out (mostly) how to pace teaching for people who are not like me in how they learn. And I know where a lot more of my own personal sore points and foibles are, and what to do about them so they stay my problem, not someone else’s.

And if the mark of a healthy spiritual life is in the connections it brings me, my life is infinitely richer now than it was those ten years ago. The deity relationships, of course, are a delight, even when they’re also a challenge. My friendships aren’t always local, but they run deep and true and strong. And there are these people, my tradmates, who I don’t always agree with – but who I love, and cherish, and know will always be a part of something dear to me. And while stuff was not always smooth and peaceful around the time I hived, I’m particularly proud of the fact that I’ve kept good relationships with the group I trained with. (And I deeply enjoy visiting them when I get the chance.)

I also look back, from this perspective, and wonder.

I’ve spent five years on the board of a local Pagan project (Twin Cities Pagan Pride), where I was part of the board that took the event to a two day event, got 501(c)3 status in our own right, and most recently have shifted to an outdoor fall festival (the public education part), and a brand new event in the spring focused on creating a space for the Pagan community to come together and share and challenge and learn (that does not involve camping…) That’s pretty neat stuff, all by itself. Helping to create a brand new moment, an event that brought people joy and wonder and learning – that’s what I live for.

I’ve written rituals, and been part of debugging others. I’ve helped friends through major medical and personal difficulty with far more patience and flat out usefulness than I would have ever imagined I had. I’ve held people when they cried, and given them help that let them face challenges in new ways. I’ve written an absurd amount, but every time I write, I get better. I’ve pummelled my brain to figure out a new way to explain something to a student or groupmate who was struggling, and I’ve done my best to figure out how to resolve conflicts in a way that was effective but compassionate.

And I’ve gotten my share of nasty emails, insults, dismissals, and much more. And of course, some places I’ve failed. Some of it well deserved, mind you. (As I noted above, I am not perfect.) And I certainly have my frustrations: with myself, with community issues, with patterns and cycles that I don’t need to repeat. I’ve had friendships change and drift away that I miss and wist for – while knowing that part of that has to do with ways I failed, somehow.

There are two things I most treasure about my religous and spiritual life these days, and a couple of others that continue to delight me.

First, that I have (as you might guess given that the word ‘phoenix’ shows up in both group names in the tradition) a number of tools for self-transformation and growth that I can use to change things in my life. That doesn’t mean those changes are instant (the past year is painful evidence of that). And it doesn’t mean I’m in control of the process.

But I feel like my training, my group work, my tradition, has given me experience enough to walk to the edge of the cliff, and jump off, and trust I’ll find my wings before I hit the ground. Not that I do that carelessly, of course. But I did it for each of my three initiations (just as it was part of the process of finding a group in the first place). And it’s lead to my facing a complicated and challenging job search, and some miserable health circumstances with a lot more grace and dignity than I would have thought even five years ago.

Doesn’t mean everything goes my way. But it does mean I tend to be less miserable in the process.

Second, I delight in having a wide range of tools at my disposal. Sabbat ritual? Simple. Meditation to help with a particular issue? Probably have one I can edit up fast. Daily or regular personal practices? Got a good sense of what might and might not help for a given situation. Ability to create my own solid, meaningful, effective ritual space and do what I need to? Yep. And a fair bit more.

It’s not that I know everything – but I feel pretty competent in a general sort of way. (What an elder deep in my affection refers to as being a professional trained stunt priestess.) It’s a lot like my other vocation, my profession. I don’t know everything there is to know about being a librarian, either. But I have a pretty good idea of what kinds of stuff I don’t know, and where it might come back to bite me, and what to do about that if it starts becoming relevant.

And that’s a pretty amazing place to be living. Lots of people don’t get here.

Then there’s the delight. Those perfect shivers of time where everything clicks in a ritual, and the chant and the incense and the colors and shapes, and the people beside you all slide into place and echo down the years. Those moments of perfect clarity in the service of M’Lady and her Lord. The inspirations of creating a chant, a ritual moment. A burst of flame from flash powder one Mabon, of the sun rising over the east bank of the Mississippi with the Morris Dancers dancing the sun up (a part of my personal practice).

Not all the moments are glorious. There’s the eternal downpour of one Beltane, where I thought I’d never get dry and my shoes squelched for days. The ritual where I worked so hard anchoring that I slept for nearly a day solid afterwards. The difficulties of any group of people doing complicated things that expose sore spots and weaknesses and frustrations. And, very occasionally, people doing things that had no excuse, that left their scars on those I care for. But all those things taught me something I would not wish to lose, too.

There were, also, of course, many hours of homework, of practice, of doing things that didn’t quite work, didn’t quite click, trying to figure out what I was missing. Of cleaning the temple when I’d rather be doing any number of other things. And there were those moments of frustration when I didn’t live up to my own standards, or let someone down. Of not knowing what to do about something, or not doing what I knew I should.

But we pick up, and we go on. When religion works, it helps us change and grow and become better, more glorious, brighter in the world.

There are things I know now I didn’t know five years ago, or even three. That’s as it should be. And it makes me wonder what I’ll know in early 2013, ten years from my initiation. Or in five years, or ten.

What I hope is that the richness, the delight, the wonder, the awe that are part of my life now are more so then. That there’s a greater stability and deep roots to anchor the work and writing and teaching and sharing I want to do, both as a librarian and as a priestess. That I’ve had a chance to learn more things, and be surprised, and do more things I’d never dreamed of.

And I really wonder what the larger Pagan communities will look like then, and what I’ll be particularly passionate about doing in them. I’m looking forward to finding out.

Group work

A conversation else-Net has me thinking about the topic of groups and unpleasant experiences. Like so many other things I talk about, I think it’s more complicated than This Group Good, That Group Bad. The long and short of it is that people are complicated, and groups of people are even more so, and that there’s a bunch of things that go into the interactions.

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Ritual limits: plans that can help

Last post in this three post series on ritual limits and some ways to handle them thoughtfully, caringly, and meaningfully.

Again, I do not claim to have all the answers: just a few things that might be of help. Mostly, this post is about policies and forms.

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